A “dead man’s hand” in poker consists of the two black aces, the two black eights, and an unknown/irrelevant card. The hand got its name because it was rumored the hand held by Wild Bill Hickock when he was murdered in 1876. The hand is the object of passion in Motorhead’s song “Ace of Spades”.
There’s something awesome going on in that song. The tempo is excessively quick. The guitars keep up a relentless eighth-note riff. The song is driving and relentless. It’s a paradox set against the thrilling but slow-moving tension of a poker game.
But there’s something relentless going on in the lyrics. Though the tension in poker is for money, the protagonist doesn’t care much about winning. Instead, the protagonist longs to play more. The thrill of the gamble is the reward, not the money: “If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man / You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me / The pleasure is to play.”
So how do you push up the ante from money? With death! The final verse suggests that life and death are on the line… and the ace of spades coming in to play somehow will mean death for a participant. And that is a point of ecstasy for the song’s protagonist. He wants to see the ace of spades. That’s living for the song’s protagonist.
So what’s the point? Why does this song stick with us? Besides that the driving beat connects with something primal in us, the song sticks with us because we resonate with the protagonist’s longing: we all hope to have something worth dying for.
The protagonist will die for the thrill of the gamble. What’s your cause worth dying for?
Lemmy was just playing a character in the song, and certainly he staked his life on much more than a gamble. In the wake of his death, fans are pushing to get “Ace of Spades” to the top of the charts. You check out the movement on Facebook.